"... so everything is fine, Hokuto-chan has been trying her hand at making French food lately and I have a few things to do now that the Shinjuku Hospital job is done. We'll be out a bit over the next few days, but I'll call again soon. Until then, Obaa-ch—"
With a sigh Lady Sumeragi ended the message playback and hung up the phone. It would have been nice to actually speak to Subaru this time but well, everyone had things to do. And she had spoken to him three days ago already, and to Hokuto the day before yesterday.
The tea resting before her was now cool enough to drink. Absently Lady Sumeragi lifted the cup to her lips watching the garden's first spring buds gently wave in the late morning Kyoto sun. Subaru had sounded well, it was good that he had the energy to wake up early, in fact both her grandchildren were keeping their New Years word to her to stay in regular contact. They were perfectly fine in Tokyo from all accounts, personal and financial although there was still a disproportionate amount being spent by Hokuto on clothes. That girl, really ... Lady Sumeragi shook her head at her granddaughter; she should have reduced Hokuto's allowance long ago. But that was normal.
Everything was mundane and normal. Lady Sumeragi did, however, still wonder about the man's voice she had heard laughing with her grandchildren when she called a few days ago. Hokuto had waved it off as a neighbour who had dropped by to discuss some small apartment building matter and Lady Sumeragi knew how her bubbly granddaughter got on with people, but the curious thing was that Subaru had also been laughing, free and relaxed. Lady Sumeragi had never heard her grandson laugh like that before.
Maybe that was the kind of life her two grandchildren had built for themselves in Tokyo. Or maybe there was something else. Every child kept secrets from adults, and for all their heritage and privilege Lady Sumeragi's twin grandchildren were no exception. Ten-year old Hokuto had hidden a box of makeup bought with money meant for a school book, and Subaru had kept a rescued stray puppy in one of the estate's old unused rooms for weeks at the age of seven. Nowadays the secrets were different, like Hokuto not telling how much she had spent on clothes and Subaru not telling when something happened with his gloves. Lady Sumeragi still remembered the terror she had felt when that happened last year, and had strong words with Subaru about it at New Years for good reason. If anything had happened to him, if the Sakurazukamori had appeared ...
But nothing had happened to him. And just like the past ten years, there was still no sign of the Sakurazukamori coming near her grandson. Yet just because there was no sign didn't mean the Sakurazukamori wasn't out there biding his or her time ...
Enough, Lady Sumeragi told herself yet again, the Sumeragi are not dictated to by fear, and while precautions must be taken Subaru-san also needs space and opportunity to live and grow into the kind of man capable of leading this family. Since she had spoken with him at New Years there had been no repeat of her spell on Subaru's gloves being triggered, and both children were making sure they called and answered Lady Sumeragi's calls from Kyoto on a regular basis. They were good children, honest children, Subaru especially, and they were growing up to be good honest adults. For all that Lady Sumeragi criticised, it was because she cared for and was proud of them.
Lady Sumeragi had brought her grandchildren up strictly but well, and she trusted them.
She turned her head slightly. In the doorway behind her personal assistant bowed. "If you please, you asked to be reminded one hour before your lunchtime appointment with the mayor in Gion."
"Thank you, Saito-san. Get the car ready, please, we will leave in twenty minutes." The man bowed again and left, and Lady Sumeragi got to her feet gritting teeth in silence against her aching knees. The next time she spoke to Subaru she should discuss with him a timeframe for him to move back to Kyoto; it was the traditional seat of the Sumeragi after all, and it would be good to start introducing him around to the various people of influence he was going to need to know when he formally took over as head of the family. But that was still a while in the future.
* * *
"Shinjuku, Kabuki-cho, street number ..."
Ishikuro Yoshirou tapped the keys lightly, keeping his eyes on the monochrome computer screen as Hideaki conducted the interview beside him. Any typographical errors in the witness statement were corrected immediately; inaccuracies in transcription were unacceptable. Even if he was only on a short civilian personnel contract, this was still his first and best chance to make an impression with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and no matter what the task, he was going to make the most of it. He wouldn't have deferred a semester of university studies otherwise.
"Thank you. For background information, Sakurazuka-san, can you describe how you know the victim in today's attack?"
"Sumeragi Subaru lives with his sister in the same neighbourhood as me. Since he has a love of animals he often visits my veterinary clinic to see and give a hand with my work, and in return I help him out if he needs anything, especially where there is driving involved."
"You and the victim are friends, then?"
Initially Yoshirou's duties had been mostly filing, handling calls, updating databases and such. Other young ambitious men would have thought it beneath them, but Yoshirou took it all as insight into not just police work, but the operation of the entire department itself. As he did everything to the best of his considerable abilities he soon found his tasks more sensitive: monitoring court cases, assisting with community relations, and now, attending witness and suspect interviews. That last in particular Yoshirou was really enjoying, though it was pity it was all confidential because otherwise some of the interviews would make great case studies. Some students Yoshirou tutored, Kitajima Shouhei for one, would definitely appreciate some fresh material. Maybe Yoshirou could fictionalise some when he returned to university.
"Thank you. Now, Sakurazuka-san, if you can tell us, in your own words, exactly what you saw when the victim was stabbed at the hospital this morning ..."
Behind his screen Yoshirou rolled his eyes. 'In your own words' was a bit Hideaki had apparently picked up from watching American TV lawyers, as if a witness or suspect interview was the same as a court cross-examination. Hideaki wasn't a bad cop, but he thought a bit too much of himself and if things repeated themselves too often he had a tendency to get lazy and miss details. So far with this morning's Shinjuku Hospital incident Hideaki had been great with the first few witnesses, but after several hours and over half-a-dozen statements all describing the same sequence of events, Hideaki was starting to make assumptions where he should really ask more questions. It annoyed Yoshirou to no end but as Hideaki kept reminding him, it wasn't his place to criticise.
"... I heard a commotion at one of the hospital rooms and went to see what was going on ..."
At least in such an open and shut case Hideaki's shortcomings weren't going to matter. Every witness thus far including this the last one was describing exactly the same thing: the young male victim had been trying talk the distraught female attacker down, the attacker had grabbed a knife stabbing the victim in the plain sight of at least six or seven people, all of the witnesses heard the attacker say she wasn't sorry, and they had restrained her at the scene literally red-handed as the victim was rushed to hospital emergency and the police called. Already there was enough information for Yoshirou to see that the big question for any prosecution was the attacker's state of mind – a desperate single mother with a chronically ill child, there was definitely an insanity argument there which would mean reduced culpability. The other question was whether the victim was dead or alive, but that one was in the hands of the doctors. Yoshirou made a mental note to follow up on it.
"Thank you, Sakurazuka-san, for your detail and patience. I apologise for making you relive any distress seeing your friend attacked like that, but it is important that we get statements while the events are still fresh in witness's minds. We're nearly finished, so just for completeness sake can you tell me if you or the victim had had any previous contact with the attacker?"
"Only once. The victim had briefly met the woman's little son on a previous trip to the hospital, so yesterday I accompanied him to the hospital again to pay a proper visit. During that visit we encountered the boy's mother and saw the extent of her desperation when she tried to barge into another patient's room demanding a kidney donation for her son. That cut the visit short."
"Is that why the victim came to hospital again this morning? To see the boy Yuuya again?"
"I presume so."
"The victim went to the hospital by himself."
"And you followed? Why?"
"I received a call from the victim."
"Then you arrived just in time to see the stabbing."
"And you also heard her say she wasn't sorry—"
"Hang on," Yoshirou interrupted. Sharply Hideaki twisted in his chair to look at Yoshirou in disbelief. Yoshirou didn't deign to meet the look, he was frowning at the lines he had just typed. "Just to clarify Sakurazuka-san, you mentioned you received a call from the victim Sumeragi Subaru. Did he call from the hospital, and what did he say?"
Hideaki was making slightly strangled noises, but those were effortlessly ignored. Coolly Yoshirou looked up waiting for an answer – and stiffened as he met the witness's gaze.
"Ishikuro-kun, you—!" Like a grizzled carp Hideaki gulped down air before turning back to his witness with a forced smile. "Please excuse the transcriber, Sakurazuka-san, he's a little over-enthusiastic and that makes him forget he's not actually a policeman—"
"It's quite all right," said the witness. Still he watched Yoshirou with those unsettling amber eyes making the hair on Yoshirou's arms stand on end. "Yes, I received a call from Subaru as he was going to the hospital. He simply let me know that he was on his way there without going into details. I went after him only to arrive just in time to see him attacked."
He spoke so evenly and yet his tone was utterly at odds with what Yoshirou was sensing through the man's glasses. Hideaki, however, was oblivious. "Thank you, Sakurazuka-san, we appreciate you answering the extra question—" here Hideaki shot a glare at Yoshirou who barely noticed, "—and if we return to my original line of questioning we can soon finish up. You arrived just as the attacker stabbed the victim, and you heard the attacker say she wasn't sorry ..."
The interview continued, and the witness turned back smiling politely at Hideaki. Immediately Yoshirou ducked his head resuming his typing, calming himself in the clacking of keys. It was perfectly natural, Yoshirou reasoned, perfectly natural that even as he cooperated with the police the witness would be feeling strongly about what had happened to his friend. It made no sense for Yoshirou to be intimidated and he wasn't, he just hadn't expected such a level of intensity. He had simply been taken by surprise, nothing more than that. Nothing more.
He kept typing.
"... and I think we've now covered everything, unless you have anything else you wish to add?" The witness replied no, and Hideaki nodded. "Thank you very much for your cooperation."
He stood and bowed, which Yoshirou effortlessly copied and the witness returned. "What happens from here?" asked the witness as Hideaki opened the interview room door.
"We will finalise the formal statement, after which we will call you to come to the station to read through it and sign. It should be within the next two or three days, but we also need to see how the victim is doing with the doctors." Hideaki held the door open. "We assure you that will do everything necessary to see this woman is held responsible for her actions."
The witness left without a backwards glance. The moment he was out of the room Hideaki shut the interview room door and turned to Yoshirou his jowled face already turning red. "What the hell was that earlier?" he demanded.
Yoshirou stood straight; he had of course been expecting this. "I believe it was in the best interest to have that extra detail about the victim's call to the witness," he replied calmly. "While I apologise for interrupting in order to ask the question, I don't regret it."
Hideaki stepped closer so that he almost loomed over the younger man. Yoshirou didn't flinch. "You are civilian personnel," Hideaki bit out. "A short-term civilian personnel contractor covering a staffing gap and any other little gaps we need a warm body to fill. You may have impressed some with your fancy talk and university psych studies, but when you're working with me you bloody well know your place ..."
Hideaki continued in this vein as if he had been building up to it for a while which he probably had. Yoshirou would have rolled his eyes if Hideaki hadn't been standing so close. Really, that was the problem with these guys who reached a rank and couldn't rise any further, they got stupidly territorial and resentful of those with drive and talent. Hideaki could spit in Yoshirou's face all he liked, it had less impact than rain on a mountain. The man wasn't worth it, and Yoshirou wasn't going to end up like him, oh no, Yoshirou had his sights higher than that.
He fixed his gaze on an invisible point between Hideaki's eyes and mentally counted seconds until the man ran out of steam.
It took eleven seconds. "Just watch your step, kid," Hideaki growled as he stormed to the door and yanked it open. "And get those statements finalised and on my desk by tomorrow lunchtime."
He stepped out slamming the door behind him. Finally Yoshirou allowed himself a grin. Eleven seconds, that was seven down from the last rant, and this time the man actually looked deflated. Score another one for Yoshirou today, and he'd add another once he was through with the statements and left them on Hideaki's desk before going home. It'd be a lovely good morning greeting for the blowhard tomorrow.
Humming a little under his breath Yoshirou went back to his seat and to work starting with the last witness statement still sitting on his screen. Sakurazuka Seishirou, Mr. Weird Eyes Veterinarian Guy, but now that the man was gone and reduced to words Yoshirou was starting to feel rather silly for being rattled like that. Plus he was appreciating that unlike some of the earlier witnesses, Sakurazuka's answers were rational, clear and concise, with none of the muddle others had—
Yoshirou paused and reread a section. Scrolled up and down to reread the rest and compare. He frowned.
Throughout the entire interview, Sakurazuka had never called his friend by name but always referred to him as 'the victim'. The only time Sakurazuka had called the victim by name was when Yoshirou had interrupted. More interestingly, Sakurazuka had called the victim 'Subaru'.
Question one: just how good a friend was the twenty-five year old veterinarian witness with the sixteen year old student victim if Sakurazuka had the intimacy of using a personal name without honourifics as if they were equals?
Question two: in his constant use of 'the victim', was Sakurazuka distancing himself from the impact of seeing his young friend gruesomely stabbed, or was he trying to play down or even hide the nature of his relationship with Sumeragi Subaru?
Ideally Yoshirou would have liked to get the witness back to ask. A good detective followed up on all threads and didn't let himself be intimidated by anyone, and Yoshirou wouldn't be caught by surprise again. On the other hand, the relationship between the witness and victim wasn't directly relevant to the case against the attacker, and Yoshirou knew himself well enough to know he only wanted to ask because he hated unanswered questions in principle. People who used to be Yoshirou's friends had repeatedly told him he needed to know when to stop snooping. Yoshirou was trying to make some improvement there, albeit not particularly hard. But he was trying.
Also Hideaki was a prick. Yoshirou wasn't going to give him that much extra help.
Stomach gurgle. Yoshirou realised he was famished, and immediately knuckled down to formatting Sakurazuka's statement unchanged. With his focus it wouldn't be long before he finished the work and had everything printed and on Hideaki's desk, after which he could treat himself to a good sushi train dinner. Hard work always deserved a reward in Yoshirou's opinion, especially when the hard work was his own.
Yoshirou's work ethic didn't let him to forget questions, but. He just saved them for the day when he could ask everything he wanted on his own terms.
Yoshirou could already see that day coming.